Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Re-thinking our positions

(In honor of the SOPA blackout, this blog post won't contain any hyperlinks. While I'm confident what  I put here will stand on its own merits without hyperlinking, I think hyperlinking really does enhance the internet's "pinball effect," to use a term I encountered in one of James Burke's books. On the other hand,  I could, of course be telling you any ol' kind of crap, and you'd just have to take my word just as right wing extremists  take Ron Paul's word that he authored every word of his Survival Report because it said so at the time,  and everyone should just wink and nod about that stuff when Ron Paul's trying to get elected president.  Or something like that. Do your homework.  If you want to know what SOPA and PIPA  is - besides the latter being a naughty word in Greek -then look up SOPA & PIPA on the Google and  also please vent on the Facebook page of "Remove Jaime Herrera Beutler,"  or on her own Facebook page because the latter Congressperson is falling way behind in her job performance.  And that's it for today's PSA.)

I recently finally decided to try out Pandora radio's "comedians" feature, possibly as a result of seeing a recent PBS episode of "Make 'em Laugh."  I have been listening, in particular, to Lenny Bruce (described, delicately, by Pandora's "artist info" as having a "Northeastern" sensibility or such.)  I think Mr. Bruce would have demurred: He was a Jew, I think he would have pointed out more accurately.

Mr. Bruce is widely respected by today's comedians, because he was such an artist with his voice; his style was heavily influenced by jazz.  That much you can get from the old Dustin Hoffman movie "Lenny," and from that movie you also get he died of a heroin overdose and that he was hounded by the government for saying naughty words.  The last bit wasn't quite true. He was hounded by the government because he was such an acute critic of their authoritarianism.  One bit left out of the movie was a bit where Bruce is doing a dead-on caricature of a Southern/Southwestern used car salesman, who was selling a WWII era German car that was only used "to drive to the furnace."

You can't say that on TV today.

I bring up this incident - my exposure to Lenny Bruce via Pandora, that is - because it is re-thinking my view of Lenny Bruce, most of whose recorded material I still probably haven't heard, and because it will (eventually) get to a point about Buddhism and everyday life. My "original opinions" about Bruce were largely formed by the aforementioned movie and a Simon and Garfunkel song ("A Simple Desultory Philippic, or How I was Robert McNamara'd into Submission") which contained the line "I learned the truth from Lenny Bruce" sung in sarcasm. My original opinions were formed this way because throught the 60s and early 70s Mr. Bruce's material was effectively blacklisted from mass media, except for whatever LPs were in print at the time.

Simon should repent of that song.  History has shown that he couldn't hold a candle to Bob Dylan, despite Mr. Simon's own considerable talents. 

Lenny Bruce, despite his personal failings, was a craftsman with his voice, and influenced the following generations of comics.  If you go to Sarah Silverman's Youtube website, there's a video of her giving a "confession" which is both hilarious and G-rated. If you think her thing is easy to do, try it; it's not.

Barbara on her Buddhism blog mentioned the fact that the brain "source codes" its information when it stores it, to bring up the fact that we should constantly question what we experience (and memory is an experience).  I thought of this when I was hearing Lenny Bruce and the used car salesman bit. It's amazing how our preconceiving notions and biases seep into everything we do and think and experience.

Paul Simon probably won't read this blog, but it's interesting how I used to have a higher opinion of him than I do now, and for "the other two Jewish folksingers of the era," namely Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen, well, the latter two have eclipsed him.

History and perception are funny that way.


David said...

First, I am glad to see that others are a bit skeptical about such application as Buddhify . . .

Secondly, as far as I can remember Lenny Bruce’s material was never blacklisted in the mass media. Obviously, he was not “ready for primetime” television in his later years, but some of the bits he did earlier on The Steve Allen Show and Playboy After Dark are among his best, and cleanest. All through the Sixties I remember seeing his book, “How To Talk Dirty and Influence People” on book racks in drug and book stores. “The Essential Lenny Bruce” was another book I recall seeing around a lot. It was the LP’s that were hard to find, at least where I was.

The Paul Simon song in question, "A Simple Desultory Philippic, or How I was Robert McNamara'd into Submission" is a parody on Bob Dylan, with Simon imitating Dylan’s voice and his sense of rhyme. Timeless, it is not, however I’m not sure that Mr. Simon needs to repent of it, anymore than Dylan should repent of “Talkin' John Birch Paranoid Blues” or “Motorpsycho Nightmare” – or, were he alive today, Lennon should repent for “God.”

Elsewhere on the same album, “Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme”, Simon and Garfunkel sing “Silent Night” over a broadcast of the 7 o’clock new, during which the new of Lenny Bruce’s death is reported by the announcer.

So, who could hold a candle to Dylan? Comparing songwriters (Dylan, Simon, Cohen) seems unfair. It’s like asking who was the better guitar player – Clapton or Hendrix? Technically, Clapton was more accomplished, but Hendrix was the real innovator. As they say, apples and oranges.

Mumon said...

David -

I think you're right. I guess he was on past my bedtime. :-) Unlike Soupy Sales...

Thing about Dylan, though, is if you listen to his early stuff - and "Nashville Skyline" and his more recent stuff- you'll quickly come to the conclusion that "Dylan's voice" was created specifically for the song type he was doing, and our impression of "Dylan's voice" is exactly why his bit with the reporter in Don't Look Back was tinged with irony and sarcasm (and not a little bit of misplaced disrespect on Dylan's part as he was toying with the reporter).

Dylan didn't have a voice for opera, but he clearly knew what he was doing with his voice & why.

You're right about the comparing of Dylan, Simon, & Cohen...but I'd still say one of them aged the best. And it wasn't Dylan, but to each their own.

Mumon said...

Oh, and if we reanimate him, Lennon shouldn't repent at all for God.

Some of the words are dated, and the words a bit narcissistic, but that's a work of genius, especially the gospel standard-flavored musical arrangement.

David said...

I’m not trying to get obstinate with you here, it’s just that I am a hardcore Dylan fan and have been going way, way back. I think Dylan created song types specifically for whatever voice he was using at the time, no the other way around. The “I can sing just as good as Caruso and hold the notes twice as long” remark, which I believe was made to the Time reporter, was revealing because I feel he was rather sensitive about how he sounded once, which led into the Nashville Skyline voice, but as time wore on, he became more comfortable with his natural voice and until recently it has served him in good stead and as Columbia Records once proclaimed “Nobody sings Dylan better than Dylan.”

As far as aging goes, I suppose it’s all in the eye of the beholder . . . but Bob is still out there on the road, playing gigs night after night, and man does his voice sound ragged now and he might be tied with Keith Richards for the most wrecked face in rock, but he must have something still going on (I haven’t seen live since 2005) because he sells out most nights and young people flock to those concerts, as they always have, and as someone else said, it takes guts to sing like Dylan . . .

No one needs to repent for anything . . . except maybe for Christmas albums.

Mumon said...

It is all eventually a matter of taste, and I could hardly find more pleasant things to disagree over.

In taking your point re: Dylan, there's a tacit assumption that these voices of Dylan were basically a decision he made to use.

Yeah, Christmas albums.

But the larger point, though is that things appear to us one way and may not be that way "in reality."